You can size up the odds but, sometimes, winning demands that you gamble
BETTING IT ALL
You can size up the odds but, sometimes, winning demands that you gamble
Throughout its history, Canada has had its share of frontier adventurers, swashbuckling entrepreneurs and intrepid war heroes. But on the whole, Canadians now are a cautious lot. In job interviews, so the old joke goes, the first thing a Canadian asks about is the company pension plan. When asked to
cite great national accomplishments, Canadians often point not to glorious military escapades but to peacekeeping efforts. And the closest many people come to taming the wilderness is mowing their lawns or clearing the brush behind their cottage.
But in the increasingly competitive, uncertain and violent 1990s, the upcoming generation
cency is a luxury of the past. Already a courageous— some might say foolhardy—few have put their fortunes or even their very lives on the line—and won big. Canadians Kelly Streit, Karl Kenny and Ian McKinnon have invested in high-risk business ventures in their home towns, Alison Reid literally jumps out of speeding cars and Capt. Guy Bélisle has confronted the chaos of bloody Bosnia. Any other gamblers out there?
Kelly Streit was 18 when he asked his family to guarantee an $8,000 loan to open a modelling agency in Red Deer, Alta. “My father practically croaked,” recalls Streit, now 26. But since then, Streit has discovered 27 models in rural Alberta who have gone on to grace runways in fashion capitals like New York City and Paris. His latest star:
Trida Helfer, the 1992 Supermodel of the World. Streit spends half his time crossing Europe and North America on talent hunts for New York’s prestigious Ford agency. But his own Streit Model Management is still headquartered in Red Deer. “My roots are here,” says Streit. After all, he adds, “I’m a member of the Rotary Club.”
The son of a B.C. logging magnate, John Ketcham was just another stmggling young Vancouver film-maker with a few local credits when he read Lazarus and the Hurricane, the story of boxer Rubin (Hurricane) Carter’s conviction for a triple murder he did not commit. “I knew right away that it could be a movie that could make a career,” says Ketcham, 31. So in 1991, he spent his entire savings to buy an option on the movie rights. It was a tough sell in Hollywood where, he says, “every waiter has a project tucked under his ami.” But he finally sold the project late last year to Beacon Pictures for more than $1 million.
He is now co-producer of the proposed $25-million feature.
A self-made millionaire in his 20s, divorced and burned out at 30, Karl Kenny is starting all over again in St. John’s, Nfld. In 1982, with just $30,000, he and a partner formed a computer-component manufacturing firm in Seattle, and built it into a $14-million-a-year business while helping develop Microsoft Corp.’s hand-held mouse along the way. After the pair cashed out in 1989, Kenny returned to his home town, where he founded Matrix Technologies Inc., which makes navigation computers for ships and digital imaging systems and employs 25 programmers and technicians.
Says Kenny, 33: “With the fishery, the forests and the mines all gone, we’ve got to harness our brainpower.”
On Feb. 18,1991, Aurora Winter awoke in her Vancouver home to find her 33-year-old husband, David Ball, dead from undetermined causes. “It was a tremendous shock, but it really opened me up,” recalls Winter, 33. Left alone with her five-year-old son, Yale, she decided to pursue her dream of writing scripts, channelling much of her grief into her work. The gamble paid off: Eli’s Lesson, a children’s television drama first shown on the Family Channel last October, has won several awards. Her second script, Last Rituals, is about fathers and sons bonding in the wilderness. Says Winter: “If I didn’t have such strong emotions,
I’d have nothing to write about.”
JULIE PAYETTE and CAPT. MICHAEL JOHN McKAY
By the time Julie Payette and Capt. Michael John McKay were in their late 20s, they both had advanced university degrees and challenging jobs as engineers. That was not enough. Last year, Payette, who was working at Montreal’s Bell Northern Research, and McKay, a Bracebridge, Ont.-born Canadian Forces officer, jumped at the chance to train as astronauts in the U.S. space program. They beat out 5,300 applicants for two slots reserved for Canadians. “I remember being in Grade 1 and watching the first men land on the moon and being inspired by that—the glamor of the job, the danger, the skill,” says McKay, 30. And Payette, 29, still senses the pioneering spirit that captivated the first generation of astronauts, who flew into space before she was bom. “At some point,” she says, “we got taken by this extraordinary thing man is doing by reaching out to the last frontier.”
Alison Reid believes there is a biochemical reason that some people court danger and risk. “The rush is part of the attraction,” she says of her addiction to flipping speeding cars or being set on fire for a living. The Toronto native was 17 when she began her stunt career, and has performed in more than 100 TV shows and movies since. But she knows that the unexpected can always happen. Last August, she broke a bone in her neck after the metal cage collapsed in a somersaulting car she was driving. But Reid was back at work co-ordinating stunts within days. And how does she relax away from the set? Skydiving, hang gliding and scuba diving.
CAPT. GUY BELISLE
On May 14,1992, Van Doo Capt. Guy Bélisle was leading UN peacekeepers in a deadly version of Bosnian roulette. As gunfire rattled through Sarajevo, Bélisle, 26, and his troops combed a 200-room hotel, checking for snipers. The Sherbrooke, Que., native says that while bursting through doors, “we didn’t think about dying or being scared. But afterwards, I thought, What a crazy thing to do!’ ” Still, he knows he made the right decision. ‘When you see these poor women and small kids, it gives you some energy to do these things,” he says. For his efforts, he received the Meritorious Service Medal, one of the highest bravery awards available to Canadian soldiers.
Climbing mountains is dangerous in the best conditions, but Barry Blanchard gets his kicks from so-called extreme climbing—scaling treacherous peaks quickly with a minimum of equipment. The 34-year-old Calgary native not only leads expeditions (he is now preparing to climb northern Pakistan’s K2, the world’s second-tallest mountain), but last summer set up rigging high in Italy’s Dolomite Mountains for the filming of some of the hair-raising stunts performed in Sylvester Stallone’s current thriller, Cliffhanger. “A lot of people die doing what he does,” says David Domian, chairman of Canada’s National Sport Climbing Committee. “He gets into big trouble in lonely places on a regular basis.”
ELDON and DELPHINE NEUFELD
Eldon Neufeld was a city boy, he says, the son of a Saskatoon taxi driver. But like Oliver Douglas, the main character in the 1960s television sitcom Green Acres, he had a hankering for farm living. In 1982, he turned his back on his career as a home builder and invested $300,000 in a 40-acre farm southwest of the city. “I went from driving a Mercedes to a $1,000 Toyota,” says Neufeld, now 38.
He and his 37-year-old wife, Delphine, also set themselves a daunting task: taming the Saskatoon berry, which grows wild on bushes, but is notoriously difficult to farm. Now, their Riverbend Plantation employs 30 people and sells berry jams, preserves, Belgian waffles, soup and sausages, as well as the berries themselves. And this spring, the Neufelds opened a display of local artifacts, including rare types of patented barbed wire. “It’s like Knott’s Berry Farm,” says Eldon, “but I don’t have a big amusement park—yet.”
Janice Komell often gets puzzled looks when she meets other corporate chief executives for the first time. “I walk into a room with several silver-haired older men and they think I’m someone’s assistant or a junior manager,” says the 31-year-old vice-president and general manager of Toronto-based AT&T Canada Inc. Komell joined the U.S.-owned telecommunications giant in 1986 as the head of its computer marketing department, and in September, 1991, was promoted to the top job in its Canadian division. Kornell says she has succeeded in an often chaotic industry by creating her own order around herself. “Otherwise,” she says, “you’re gone within a year.”
Ian McKinnon hardly fits the mould of a go-go entrepreneur. Holding a master’s degree in folklore, the Halifax native was determined to pursue a career as a bagpiper in his five-member folk-rock group, Rawlins Cross. The band won critical and popular acclaim locally, but could not land a recording contract.
McKinnon responded by forming his own company, Ground Swell Records, in 1991, which now distributes records by over a dozen Atlantic Canadian acts to hundreds of stores across Canada. “I’ve always felt strongly about our music and was frustrated that it wasn’t being recognized,” says McKinnon, 31. “The idea now is to take it out nationally.”
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